Selling immigration reform

“We are getting killed with the Hispanic vote.”

If I were a Republican senator and I had just signed on to a comprehensive immigration reform proposal, that is exactly how I wouldn’t sell the package to my constituents.

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Immigration reform is not necessarily going to help Republicans get more Hispanic votes, or Asian votes, for that matter. And immigration is not the only reason Hispanics and Asians voted against the GOP in the last election.

That is also a very self-interested statement. When a politician makes a political argument on a policy issue, he is explaining how the issue will help him personally, not how it will help his constituents or the nation at large.

If I were a Republican senator who had signed on to this package, this is how I would explain it to my constituents:

First, I would say that making the legalization process more effective would push wages up for everybody by getting rid of competition from undocumented workers who tend to depress wages. And that is good for all workers, whether they are black, white, yellow or a mix of all three.

Second, I would say that immigration reform would make communities safer. By increasing border security and by focusing on deporting the small percentage of illegal immigrants who are criminals, we can make sure that we are keeping the good actors and getting rid of the bad actors. Comprehensive immigration reform will do that, and that is why I support this bill.

Third, I would say that we must get immigrants out of the shadows of our communities. They must pay their fair share in taxes, which will only happen if we make it easier for them to attain legal status. Immigrants who can boldly participate in all aspects of American life, without worry about their legal status, make better citizens and are better for our democracy.

Fourth, I would say that making sure that families are reunited and can stay connected is not only the right thing to do, it is the Christian thing to do. If we care at all about our religious beliefs, we must understand that laws that force families apart are immoral and must be changed.

Fifth, to those people who say that immigration will change the face of America, I would say that America has succeeded precisely because of its immigrants. What immigrant group hasn’t made America a better place to live, a more successful nation, the greatest democracy in the history of the world? We shouldn’t be afraid of our newest immigrants — we should embrace them because they are the lifeblood of our economy and of our democracy.

To those who say that comprehensive reform is amnesty, I would say that America can’t make progress unless it fixes its legal immigration system. If the front door is locked, and people need to get in the house, they will go in through the side door or through the windows. We need to unlock the front door and let people in in an orderly way.

The arguments on behalf of comprehensive immigration reform should be quite simple. It will help increase wages for working Americans, it will make communities more secure, it will make immigrants pay their fair share of taxes and it will keep families connected. And it won’t change the face of America. Instead it will reaffirm what America means to the rest of the world.

That’s how I would explain it.

What I wouldn’t say is, “we are getting killed with the Hispanic vote and that’s why we are doing this.”

Feehery is president of Quinn Gillespie Communications and spent 15 years working in the House Republican leadership. He is a contributor to The Hill’s Pundits Blog and blogs at thefeeherytheory.com.



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